For those of us that are involved in the care of patients with chronic hepatitis C, the “never too soon” announcement that we will finally have new drugs to treat our hepatitis C patients with cannot come soon enough. There is a real possibility that one and possibly two new agents for hepatitis C will be granted approval by the FDA in the months to come. When that day will be is unknown to me, but I anticipate later this summer at the latest.
There is a frenzy of discussion in the press, as well as the blogosphere on the new drugs, namely Telaprevir, manufactured by Vertex, and Boceprevir, manufactured by Merck. I have had the opportunity to use both of these drugs in clinical studies over the past several years, and understand how they both work, and what patients can expect. Much to everyone’s surprise, patients will still need to take one of the pegylated interferons once weekly, and ribavirin twice daily. The new drugs are added to this backbone of therapy. Besides the expected interferon and ribavirin side effects, the protease inhibitors do add some additional problems, but for the most part, in experienced hands, they can be managed fine. Once these drugs are approved, I anticipate a mad-dash of patients, wanting to get their hands on these therapies.
My advise is to start requesting your old records now if you were previously treated. Knowing exactly how many weeks you were treated, what your response was, and what complications developed, will be important information prior to commencing any sort of new therapy, regardless of which protease inhibitor you are started on. It can take weeks to get these records, so start asking now.
There are hundreds of thousands of patients with hepatitis C that are either naive to therapy (never treated), or previously treated with a partial response (null responder, non-responder, or responder-relapser). All of these individuals should be considered for these new therapies, but you need to be sure you are being seen by a practice that can handle these patients. With the new protease inhibitor drugs, resistance can become an issue, and discontinuing the therapy in a timely fashion is important. The treatment protocols are different from prior therapies, with a lead-in phase with interferon. All of these steps requires careful monitoring and communication with the patient. An experienced staff of nurses will be needed. Prior to being evaluated for these new exciting drugs, you, as a consumer, need to ask these questions to see if your care provider has the necessary experience, as well as a dedicated team to support them once patients are started on therapy.
Besides the two contenders for FDA approval later this summer, the pipeline for additional drugs is incredibly long. We are conducting research studies on an additional 12 drugs, all of which look promising. Some of the protocols are free of the hated interferon. Imagine, HCV therapy without interferon? That day will be here, allbeit several more years. I am currently in Chicago with the HCV team from Abbott, who also has a number of exciting compounds we will start studying soon with our patients in Houston.
So, when will the new hepatitis C drugs be available? My best educated guess will be by Labor Day, but we may all be surprised sooner, based on the chatter in the press and FDA hallways.
I am eager to hear what you think? Comment on your prior experience with hepatitis C therapy.